The next time you plan a road trip, consider taking your cat with you. While it may sound difficult, with a little work and preparation, you, too, can enjoy tooling through the countryside with your feline friend at your side.
While all cats benefit from hitting the road, road tripping is only appropriate for brave cats and those cats who have been leashed trained. Even skittish cats, with the right training, can make fun road trip buddies. For this article, I’m focusing on brave cats and those who’ve been leash trained.
Before you can take your cat on a road trip, you’ll need to acclimate your cat to the car. If your cat’s experience with cars has been limited to trips to and from the vet, your cat probably has a pretty dim view of car trips. If your cat is leash trained, you’re in luck. Regularly driving your cat to a favorite park or walking spot will result in a cat who looks forward to its car trips. Make sure your cat is in a carrier initially, and when it masters that, upgrade to a pet seat or pet gate.
If your cat is a brave cat who isn’t keen on the car, you’ll need to change its perception. This can be done by driving it to a cat-friendly area like a bird-filled park or woods. Carry your cat in your arms (while he or she is wearing a harness and leash) or in a cat carrier as you walk through the area. Your brave little cat will likely be scared, but don’t despair; your cat is learning and absorbing lots of new and exciting things. Keep the first trip short — 5 to 10 minutes — and expand the duration over time. When you return to the car, offer your cat his or her favorite treat. Do this regularly, and vary the locations, until your cat is comfortable leaving the house behind for an hour or two.
Good Planning, Good Trip
When planning your trip, don’t include your cat if the cat is going to be stuck in a hotel room the entire time. If you won’t be able to take your cat on a few mini-adventures, then this is probably not the right trip. Wait for another opportunity or plan a more inclusive one.
Once you’ve decided that the time and the place are right, it’s time to make plans:
Take your cat to various local places to ensure your cat is ready for this. If your cat freaks out, either in the car or at the location, you will need to work with your cat before embarking on a road trip.
Purchase a book of dog-friendly restaurants, hotels, and attractions. Bookmark a few pet-friendly websites on your phone so you’ll have a resource wherever your wanderings may take you.
Map out the trip and include plenty of stops to rest your legs and exercise your cat. Try not to travel for more than a couple hours between stops.
Plan at least one outing per day that includes your cat.
When planning, especially in the early days, keep in mind that most cats will become exhausted within a couple hours of being out in the world. Even if they’re mostly being carried, all of your cat’s senses will be on overdrive. A nice long nap after an outing will be much appreciated.
In addition to packing your own things, you’ll need to pack for your cat. Here’s a good list essentials: litter box, scoop, litter, food, food dishes, treats, cat carrier, favorite toy or two, pet prescription medications, paper towels, a couple large re-closable plastic bags, a re-closable plastic bag of “dirty” litter from the litterbox, pet stain and odor remover (just in case), tie-out, leash, and harness
If you’ll only be away for a few days, it might be easier to purchase disposable litterboxes complete with litter. Make sure you have one for each stop on your journey as you won’t want to carry around a dirty box.
While on the road, you’ll need to take your cat out and give it the opportunity to stretch its legs and do its business. Most cats, even those who are leash trained, are hesitant to relieve themselves while on leash. They feel pretty vulnerable. That’s fine if you aren’t going very far, but on a long trip, they eventually won’t be able to hold it anymore. To avoid accidents in the car, stop every couple of hours. Here’s a tip: try to find a sandy spot for your cat. If you’re near a beach, stop at a secluded sandy spot along the way. If your cat is hesitant, sprinkle a generous amount of “dirty” litter on the ground and place your cat near it. This will encourage some cats.
Secure Harness and Tie-out
While on the trip, your cat will need to wear a harness the entire time. Don’t skimp here; buy a comfortable and secure harness for your cat. Even if you don’t plan to train your cat to walk on leash, you need to acclimate your cat to wearing a harness before taking it on its first road trip. For most cats, letting your cat sniff the harness and then leaving it in your cat’s sleeping or play area for a few days will demystify it. If your cat has a cat bed or a place where it generally sleeps, put it there so that it can soak up your cat’s comforting scent.
After a couple days, put the harness on your cat. It doesn’t have to be tight, but your cat shouldn’t be able to wiggle out of it. Once the cat is wearing the harness, immediately bring out your cat’s favorite treats and toys to misdirect it. Some cats will flip around and complain. Let them do it for a few minutes (safely), and then take the harness off. Repeat daily until your cat stops complaining and succumbs to the allure of the offerings. Once this happens, leave the harness on overnight. When your cat begins to behave as if her or she doesn’t even notice it’s wearing the harness, you’re done.
You may be surprised at how many hotels allow pets. While some require a daily surcharge, others don’t. Be sure to get a verbal confirmation of their current policy before making your reservation.
As with hotels, there are restaurants with outdoor seating that allow you to bring your dog (or, in this case, cat). Before your trip, locate a couple so that you can take your cat with you for a meal or two. Don’t forget the treats.
Your First Trip
You’ve packed your bags and your cat’s bags. You’ve strapped your cat into its harness and then into its car seat. A few minutes later, you back out of the driveway and give the house a final glance before merging into traffic. Your cat gives out an anticipatory meow and you’re off. You realize you have a stupid grin on your face as you clock the first mile because you’re certain that you and your cat are about to have the time of your lives!
Clifford Brooks works as a documentation manager in the enterprise software security sector. In his spare time, he writes horror fiction, cat books, and blog posts. His most recent books, The Zen of Cat Walking and Toilet Train Your Cat, Plain and Simple, provide thorough information on training your cat. You can follow him on his cat walking adventures and share in the joy of cat ownership at CliffordBrooks.com.
Are you a San Francisco Bay area cat behaviorist, cat consultant, or cat expert who would like to contribute to this column, Kitty Corner? Send email to Editor@BayWoof.com.
Main article photo by: Photos by Clifford Brooks